Feeling torn on a decision? Should you go left or right? Should you start that business or push for the promotion? Decision making isn’t easy.
Especially with the larger things in life:
- Relationships, etc.
It can often be hard to know which way is the right way to go. But, let’s be honest… you know what else is a tough decision? A choice so wrought with angst, so treacherous to undertake, that many evenings fall apart entirely because of it?
Deciding on dinner.
Never a fun conversation
I can’t tell you how many nights have taken a turn for the worse when my wife and I are unsure of what to do about dinner.
Let’s go out to eat.
Alright, where should we go?
That’s a great question. What do you think?
I asked you first.
Good point, but if you had to choose, where would we go?
It’s never a fun conversation to have. However, we have gotten much better at having it through clearer decision making and expectation setting (more on that below).
Whether it’s choosing your dinner, or deciding on a new career path, having the strength to make a decision – and stand by that decision – can be quite challenging. Some good news though, decisions are rarely as big a deal as they seem.
With that in mind, below are some tips that you can use to make your decision making process a little bit better and a little bit easier.
They add up
Most of the decisions that you encounter are, let’s face it, relatively unimportant. Deciding on dinner, choosing Netflix or YouTube, this filter or that one. Menial decisions, right?
Decisions about where to live, work, or which relationships to keep are infrequent.
Most of the time, the decisions you make each day are small, simple, and easy… but they add up. Our brains have a limit and the more decisions we make over the course of the day, the more tired our brains become.
That leads me to the first decision making tip to follow – reduce the amount of decisions you make each day.
Often referred to as decision fatigue, the more decisions you make, the more energy you use up. Consequently, the more energy you use up on small decisions, the less you will have for larger decisions later on in the day.
For example, if you wake up and have to decide:
- Should I brush my teeth first or wash my face?
- Is today a contacts day or a glasses day?
- Am I better off showering now or later?
- For breakfast, should I do a yogurt or make eggs? Do I have eggs? How many eggs should I make? Scrambled or over-easy?
You will be exhausted by lunch.
And if your entire day follows this pattern? You’ll probably find yourself snacking on candy and sugary drinks by the afternoon: you’ll have burned through all your willpower and decision making faculties.
See it like going for a run.
If you run once a day, totally fine. You have time to recover and you’re ready to go the next day. If you start running twice a day, still probably fine but you’re going to be a little more tired and you may need some extra rest.
Start running 12 times a day? You’re going to be exhausted and probably crawling on that last run.
Decision making is very similar.
If your day is comprised of too many decisions, your ability to make effective ones by the evening will be heavily reduced. Don’t panic though. There are three things you can do today to lessen decision fatigue.
Decision making tip one – Lessen decision fatigue
The first thing that you can do to reduce decision fatigue is to limit the total amount of decisions that you make each day.
For example, when you wake up, you should already know what you’re going to:
- Have for breakfast
- And listen to on the way to work
The fewer decisions you need to make, the more decision making power you will have throughout the rest of your day. So create routines and habits to help you achieve that.
Second, make sure to give yourself time to recover between decisions. If you make too many choices back to back, your energy will be drained. Give yourself a chance to recoup.
Space out the decisions that you make so that you have time to bounce back.
Third, and this is similar to my first point, have a plan for your day. Meaning, don’t wake up and figure things out as you go. Sit down in the afternoon or evening prior and plan out what you want to get done and when.
That way, during the day you don’t have to think. You can just do.
See how I mentioned planning at the end of your day? You do it then because planning requires decision making power too. You don’t want to waste your new-day-energy first thing by planning in the morning.
Instead, I recommend creating your plan for tomorrow at the end of your day today. That’s so you don’t waste any useful decision making energy that you need for your morning and daytime decisions.
The thing you lose
When it comes to decision making, something that people rarely consider is what they say no to every time they say yes. Also known as an opportunity cost, this is the thing you lose when you say yes to something.
For example, if you say yes to attending a conference tomorrow, you are saying no to the other hundreds of possible ways you could be spending your time. You can’t be at that conference in one city and have a meeting with your boss in another at the same moment.
You give up something each time you say yes.
Now, how is this relevant to your decision making process? Because of what you lose.
Decision making tip two – Recognize the opportunity cost
When going through your decision making protocol, you need to be aware of the opportunity cost of deciding on one thing over another. If you don’t realize this, you will likely give your time away to causes that don’t help you achieve your vision of success.
If you agree to work on the weekend, you lose the time that you would’ve spent building your dream business.
Or if you accept an invitation to a networking event, you lose the time that would’ve been spent with your spouse.
When making decisions, consider what you lose when you agree to something. Let that loss help guide your decision and help you realize what the priority is (and what you should actually be saying yes to).
Decision making tip three – Reduce and assign
You’ve limited the amount of decisions you need to make so that you can make clearer, more effective calls. You’ve recognized what you gain (and lose) each time you make a decision.
A great start. But what happens when you’re… still torn on dinner?
When making decisions as part of a team, I’ve found it immensely helpful to:
- Reduce the amount of options available to you
- And assign clear roles
For instance, there are times when my wife and I are indifferent about what to do for dinner, but need to make a decision. In that scenario, one person is in charge of coming up with the options. The other is in charge of making the executive call.
We normally take turns doing this.
I will come up with two to three dinner choices (out of the dozens of possibilities) and my wife will make the decision. Or vice versa. Either way, we reduce the amount of options available so there are few selections to sort through. We also set the expectation of who is to do what so there is no ambiguity or wasting time going back and forth.
If you know the pain of the “What should we do for dinner?” conversation, give this technique a try.
Everything is important
Ok so that handles small, team-driven decisions. But what if you’re torn on what you should be doing with your time each day?
A great question.
While planning your day is invaluable, what happens when you aren’t sure what to put in your schedule?
When everything is important, nothing is.
That said, you need to get clear on what is important to you. That’s where things like goal setting and long-term planning are helpful: they force you to envision a brighter future for yourself and put steps into place to make it happen.
If you aren’t sure if goal setting is right for you and you find yourself torn with this kind of decision, I say give it a try.
Decision making tip four – Use goals to guide you
Take the time to understand what matters most to you. Then, let that priority guide your decision. For instance, here are a couple decision making examples based on goal setting.
Example one: You want to write up a new blog post, but also know that you have design work to finish. What do you do? Let your goals guide you.
In this case, your goal for the month is to write five new blog posts. It’s your priority. So, both things being equal, you know that:
- First, you should work on your blog posts
- And then with your extra time, you can finish the designs
Example two: You want to lift weights at the gym, but also feel like you should go for a run. What’s the call? Same thing – let your goals guide you.
In this instance, you’ve set a goal to run a half marathon in two months and need to spend your time training for it before doing anything else. So, you know then that you should:
- First, get your run training in for the week
- Then, if you have leftover time and energy, can lift weights
Again, let the power of goal setting help prioritize and lead you in a positive direction.
Decision making tip five – Consider the sustainability
One final thing you want to keep in mind with decision making is sustainability. At some point, saying yes to too much will max out your time. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself stretched too thin and without anything left for you.
That’s a problem.
Because at the end of the day, you need to use your time wisely to help you move forward towards your ideal of success. And if you give all your time away, you either won’t be moving at all, or worse, you’ll move backwards.
So one of the smartest decision making skills that you can develop is to consider the sustainability of your decisions. Consider:
- Will agreeing to this help me or my team move forward?
- Or will it drain or waste my limited resources?
Life is a balance. It’s not just a matter of work and not work. It’s balancing all things as a whole. If you give your time away to one project, you are saying no to another (remember opportunity costs?).
That’s fine to do every once and awhile, but at some point you’ll end up giving away more time than you should. You created something unsustainable by agreeing to too much.
When making decisions, then, consider the sustainability of saying yes and no.
Moving forward with your decision making
Decision making can be challenging, but there are ways to get better at it. Try out the tips above and see how you can improve upon your decision making process.
Limit the amount of decisions you need to make each day. Recognize what the opportunity cost is of saying yes. Reduce the amount of options you have available and assign exact roles when working as a team.
Let your goals guide you and always consider whether what you’re doing is sustainable.
Decision making isn’t always easy, but hopefully, if I did my job right, deciding on dinner will be a little bit easier for you from now on.
Still can’t decide?
You know there are better ways to be spending your time each day, but… you just don’t know what they are. I can help. In my productivity course I teach you how to:
- Organize your physical and mental environments
- Understand what your priorities are
- And take real, meaningful action each day
This is one decision that’s easy to make.
Additional references and inspirations: